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How to cope with miscarriage grief
Everyone mourns a pregnancy loss in their own way. But support from loved ones may help ease the pain.
Losing a child is one of the most difficult experiences a parent may ever have to endure. And having a miscarriage is no exception. The bond between mom, dad and baby, even early on in pregnancy, can be undeniable. While you may not have met your baby, you might have had hopes and dreams about parenthood or the person they’d become.
Unfortunately, this is a crushing experience shared by parents around the world. Up to 20% of women who know they’re pregnant will experience this loss, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Because it’s so common, it can be easy to downplay your emotions. Or perhaps friends or family who haven’t gone through such a loss may not understand the depths of your grief. But know that your grief is real — and you’re entitled to mourn in your own way.
You may be having feelings that you never thought possible. Here, experts offer their advice to help you navigate this tough time and how loved ones can best support you.
How to handle miscarriage grief
There’s no rulebook when it comes to this kind of loss. “Grief tends to come in waves,” says Rachel Zhuk, MD. She’s a psychiatrist and member of the American Psychological Association’s committee on women’s mental health. “You may feel better for a while, and then it can come rolling back in.”
So how do you cope with this roller coaster of emotions?
Let yourself feel
“Miscarriages really are an unacknowledged loss for many women,” says Aline Zoldbrod, PhD. She’s a Boston-based psychologist who counsels women who have had miscarriages. “The message from society that a woman may hear after a miscarriage is just to get on with her life and to try again. But trying again doesn’t bring back the baby she lost.”
Give yourself permission to grieve as deeply and as long as you need to, adds Zoldbrod. And this is true for partners, too. A miscarriage is a loss for both of you.
Know that it’s not your fault
This can be a confusing time. “But try your best to remember that you didn’t do anything wrong to cause the miscarriage,” says Jennifer Lew, MD. She’s a gynecologist at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb, Illinois.
“When I talk to patients, we discuss that most people with families will have experienced a miscarriage at least once,” adds Dr. Lew. And that much of the time, even with testing, doctors can’t tell why it happened.
Be as open about it as you can
You don’t have to go through this alone. “Pregnancy loss can be a very isolating time,” says Dr. Zhuk. “Many people feel uncomfortable talking about these losses. But the more open you can be, the more others can support you.”
One option is to connect with others who have also gone through it. “Some people find support groups helpful, to be with others who have shared a similar experience,” says Dr. Lew. “Often these sad things aren’t spoken, and to have a forum to express one’s feelings can be healing.”
Consider seeking professional help
A miscarriage can be tough on your body and mind. If you’re struggling with feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, it may be time to reach out to a therapist or counselor, says Dr. Zhuk.
Another sign that you may want to ask for help? The loss is so overwhelming that you’re unable to return to or enjoy your usual activities. A mental health professional can be your sounding board, arming you with tools to help you live with this loss. (If it turns out that medication might be warranted, Optum Store can help. Learn more about our services.)
How you can support a loved one grieving a miscarriage
Finding the right words can be hard when someone you care for loses a pregnancy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try. No matter how open your loved one is during this experience, there are small things you can do to help them feel safe and allow them the space they need to heal.
Acknowledge their loss
This could be as simple as sending a sympathy card or telling them you’re sorry for their loss. “The most important thing is to let the woman know that she is supported and that however she’s mourning is okay,” suggests Dr. Zhuk.
“A lot of people have a well-meaning impulse to help the woman ‘move on’ and may find it hard to see their loved one suffering,” she adds. “But letting her know the loss matters to you — and that she doesn’t have to act happy or put it behind her — is a great place to start.”
If this doesn’t feel comfortable, be open about it. You can say something such as, “I wish I knew what to say because I really want to support you. Know that I’m here for you and I want to listen if you ever want to talk.”
Be an active listener
Pushing an agenda on anyone who’s suffering will likely backfire. “More than solving problems, try to show that you hear what she’s saying and understand it,” says Dr. Zhuk. “You don’t have to agree with everything she says or feel the same way she feels to empathize.”
A big part of this is also using her language around the baby and the loss, adds Dr. Zhuk. For example, if she uses the baby’s name, you can use it, too.
Offer practical help
This could be cleaning, grocery shopping or helping to care for other children. “Rather than waiting for requests, ask if you can bring a meal or take the kids out to the park,” suggests Dr. Zhuk.
And try to regularly check in on them. “Some women feel like there’s an initial outpouring of support, and then they feel more isolated,” adds Dr. Zhuk. There’s no timeline for grief. And it can look very different on different people. Even if you think they may have moved on, stay connected as best you can.
Statistics on miscarriage: Cleveland Clinic (2018). “Miscarriage”